Track Pack – 14th-20th January 2019

Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes – Crowbar

It’s so good to see how much love and good will has gone towards Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes ever since their inception, especially when the most vehement reaction to the first post-Gallows effort Pure Love was a simple shrug. Of course, it definitely makes sense – musically this has been Carter’s most experimental period to date with enough to tie it back to Gallows while still being original – and with a third album on the way, it’ll be interesting to see just how the reaction to such an ever-changing artist evolves in turn. Off the back of Crowbar though, it definitely seems like another potentially successful period, focusing on seedy, creeping alt-rock that explodes with enough momentum and ghostly atmosphere to hit those characteristic heights, but never lose sight of its insidiousness. As for Carter himself, he’s become so adept at channeling the anger and misanthropy of Gallows into something much more sneering and restrained, letting the words do the talking over the execution, and this really does feel like a great example of that, remaining poised and relatively low-key, but allowing the venom towards conformity and being boxed in within society burn through all the same. It really does hit that great spot that’s become so identifiable in this band’s formula, something that a bit of time away clearly hasn’t done away with in any capacity. Whatever comes next is bound to be interesting, but there’s no doubt that it’ll massively impress, especially off the back of this one.

The Maine – Numb Without You

It’s impressive to see how The Maine have gone from pop-rock also-rans to a genuine force of creativity and passion within the genre, something that, when the allure of excessive polish is creeping ever further into view, can be a good distinction to have. What’s more, with Lovely Little Lonely being as well-received as it was, they seem to be riding higher than ever before at this point, something that Numb Without You can’t reasonably keep afloat. It’s understandable why The Maine would opt for a barely basic love song at this point, and with the bursts of staccato strings and interesting lyrical imagery, this certainly isn’t as throwaway as what some of their peers have delivered in the same vein. At the same time though, it can feel very rote in its execution, lacking the usual sparkle that this band have come to be known for, particularly in a hook that feels copy-pasted from any number of big pop-rock ballads, with only the most minute bit of extra flair added. It won’t be enough to derail this ever-reliable train from chugging alone with the same force as always, but it’s a slight dip from what The Maine have been regularly delivering, and it’s hard not to feel disappointed by that.

The Killers – Land Of The Free

If Wonderful Wonderful did anything for The Killers, it was establish that they’re really not a versatile band, and that they’re still trying to rehash the same ‘American as apple pie’ attitude and imagery that’s been their MO since the start. With that in mind though, the notion that going even broader could be detrimental is very real – the dusty, heartland atmosphere always had intrinsic appeal, even if could feel a bit repetitive – but credit where it’s due, Land Of The Free actually feels like a song with stakes behind it and an execution that pulls it off. For the clear criticisms of America’s current social and political climate, it all flows in a way that can feel distinctly innocuous upon first listen, but slowly and surely expands for something bigger and more powerful, mirrored by the gospel choir that’s given continually more airtime and Brandon Flowers’ vocals developing more of a swell as it goes. Even the rather simplistic piano line that forms the main instrumental core works for what it is, keeping the melancholy in reach but never overshadowing the message alongside it. As a pop-rock song, there’s a lot to like and appreciate here, and even if it is only a standalone single, maybe The Killers could use this a jumping-off point for something more interesting going ahead.

PUP – Kids

Even when indie-flecked garage-punk was at its incredibly homogeneous people, PUP were always among the bands that stood out most, mostly because they had the snotty pop-punk edge and sensibilities of classic pop to take an admittedly restrictive sound somewhere that could be far more enjoyable and fun. That doesn’t seem to have gone away with Kids either, still as rough around the edges as ever but focusing on a sense of windswept joy with its skipping guitar and bass and Stefan Babcock’s yelping vocals that hit precisely the right point between galloping punk rager and snappy power-pop banger with the most incredible of ease. And just like with pretty much everything that PUP have put their name to, it’s so easy to latch onto, almost coming across as cartoonish in its execution but lined with a sense of exuberance and power that makes it one hell of a sugar rush. It’s exactly what punk like this should be, and as ever, PUP are doing it masterfully.

Yungblud – Loner

Look, for as hard and vehemently as Yungblud is being pushed by the rock media, there’s absolutely no way it’s without some ulterior motive other from the music. He has a horrid voice for a start, and as far as politically-driven indie-rock goes, his messages are about as shallow and reductive as they get, to say nothing about his own laughable pretensions towards being an exciting force in rock ‘n’ roll that’s somehow changing the game and saying something that the others aren’t. So with that in mind, Loner feels right up the alley of someone like that, a song whose begins and ends at the disenfranchised children who’ve believed his platitudes and given him this platform to begin with, yet with any further scrutiny, comes apart in record time. Sure, it’s probably one of his catchiest tracks to date, but the way Yungblud tries to mask how shallow this actually is with his honking, uncontrollable voice grates horrendously, while the mid-2000s indie-rock serving as a backing canvas is about as dated and uninteresting as it gets. Take away the all the fluff (and there’s no shortage of that here), and what Loner boils down to is the sort of shallow, hilariously blatant pandering that’s always been prevalent in the scene that Yungblud has somehow found himself to be a part of, only with a terrible sound and a frontman that has no likable personality or charisma whatsoever. Pretty useless, in other words.

SWMRS – Trashbag Baby

Up to now, neither of the tracks that SWMRS have released from Berkeley’s On Fire have impressed at all, coming across as messy and slapdash in a way that only perpetuates the notion of the lack of care about quality control garage-rock bands have. Thus, it can be safe to assume that Trashbag Baby has been positioned as reputation repair in a sense, and indeed, it definitely feels the most competent of all the tracks released so far. For one, it takes the same route that FIDLAR have gone down recently by mixing the scrappier tendencies of their garage-rock with more colourful alt-pop, lending this track a pop that definitely takes it further than before, coupled with sharp, rambunctious guitar work that has a nice sense of groove and kinetic energy. It’s definitely shallow by comparison to all this, and Cole Becker still needs a bit more seasoning to be a frontman worth endorsing, but this is probably the best that SWMRS have come across to date all the same. It still isn’t fantastic, but at least there’s a bit more promise for what might be delivered going ahead.

Blaqk Audio – The Viles

Blaqk Audio have frequently hung in a precarious position in regards to where they stand as an AFI side-project (namely in the fact that the response to them has typically been mixed at best), but with The Missing Man putting Davey Havok and Jade Puget’s main project back on track, it was always going to be interesting to see what was going to happen on the other side. And with The Viles, it’s definitely a statement, but like a lot of Blaqk Audio’s material in the past, it’s hard to come to a conclusion about whether it’s the right one. The throbbing electronic beat definitely has a lot of grandiose punch to it, but pulling from shrill EDM synths feels like an undeniably jarring clash, particularly with Havok’s vocals that have in the very staccato, stately role that’s always been better suited for darker, more ominous material. As for this, it definitely has more parts that work than a lot of Blaqk Audio material, but it still feels as though Havok and Puget are struggling to settle into a niche of their own, and that’s ultimately what’s holding it back from being more than a clearly-defined side-project.

Ithaca – Impulse Crush

Look, if you’re a hardcore fan and you’re not onboard with Ithaca yet, you’re seriously missing out. Pretty much out of the blue they’ve become one of the most hotly-tipped UK bands out there, and given that their debut album is just around the corner, those hot tips will be turning into something rather tangible very soon. In the meantime, Impulse Crush is yet another meaty slice of excellence to prove that the hype is indeed real, taking hold of the angular, seething rage that a band like Employed To Serve gave new life to and pairing it with jagged edges and audible instrumental snarls that take past any pre-existing boundaries into some newly unhinged territory. Topped off by Djamila Azzouz maintaining her role as 2019’s primary hardcore fire starter, and Ithaca deliver another load of greatness before their inevitably equally great album turns them into a genuine force of nature. Don’t be sleeping on this lot any longer.

Hot Milk – Awful Ever After

It’s a good thing the adage of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ applies as vehemently to music criticism as it does, because Hot Milk may just be one of the worst band names to come around in the last few years. At least it’s not indicative of the content on offer, and if you get past that, Awful Ever After is about as solid and razor-tight as pop-rock gets in 2019. The main factor is the chemistry between vocalists Jim Shaw and Han Mee, the latter being responsible for the sort of potent, immediately explosive hook that most bands would kill for, while the former keeps a tight hold on grounding the whole thing, recognisable in the Britrock frontman vein but having the distinguishing character to ride the more atmospheric production well. And yes, polish does factor in how much Awful Ever After works, but in the same way as Dream State can keep a level of crunch while being ready for prime time out of the box, Hot Milk remain as punchy and focused as possible with their guitars and percussion to keep the sense of momentum at a constant high. It’s a borderline masterclass in pop-rock construction for the modern day, and if this is something they can keep up, Hot Milk will be pretty unavoidable in the coming months.

Drag Me Out – I’m Sorry

Considering Denis Stoff’s frankly impressive track record of running the bands he’s in directly into the ground, it’s a wonder that anyone would actually want to start a new one with him. But here’s Drag Me Out, Stoff’s post-Asking Alexandria effort that proves he’s still as creatively moribund as he was all the way back in the Make Me Famous days, as I’m Sorry feels like the sort of grossly polished, inhuman metalcore that would’ve been considered filler in the early 2010s, and has only gotten even more disposable since. At least Stoff is trying to cut his losses with a vocal performance designed to highlight his overall range and that’s done reasonably well, but when any sense of heft or really any organic instrumental presence at all is left gasping for air among layer upon layer of ‘atmospheric’ filters, it’s borderline impossible to fathom what hopes to be achieved with this. It can’t be any sort of longevity given that this is about as generic and irrelevant as it gets, but also, given that this is the latest endevour from Denis Stoff, a man who’s become frankly notorious for leaving plenty of his former bandmates high and dry over the years, don’t expect this to last long at all.

Youth Fountain – Deadlocked

As good as Pure Noise’s diversification has been in the past few years, the harder-edged pop-punk that saw the label become such a force was never going to pushed on the back burner completely, and thus Youth Fountain’s presence makes complete sense, especially with their label debut EP last year. Of course, given the rapidly-moving world of pop-punk, striking as quickly as possible like they have here is a smart move, but even then, it’s hard to really get into a song like Deadlocked all that much, especially when so much of it can be traced back to their current labelmates with no hassle at all. Cody Muraro has more than a hint of Parker Cannon in his thick, cracking shouts, and with the spaced-out, emo-tinged pop-punk that this band have laid their foundations on, it all kind of feels like yet another band just begging to be lost in the shuffle, especially given how unyieldingly okay the lyrics are in their portrayal of mental anguish. It would be great to be proven wrong if Youth Fountain’s upcoming album can actually deliver, but at the minute, that’s all looking a bit spotty.

Former Wrestlers – Weekend Hobbies

A project like Former Wrestlers could definitely be the cause for some alarm; it’s no secret that bands who rely on a certain aesthetic gimmick to promote themselves over any actual music rarely have much of worth to offer, and when the primary image associated with this one is Derya Nagle going around in his luchador mask, it’s easy to expect the worst. At least Nagle has the background to back him up, playing guitar for the likes of The Safety Fire and Good Tiger, and digging into what’s actually here, Weekend Hobbies is less reliant on gimmickry than just being a fairly pleasant alt-rock track. Nagle’s vocals are easily the main selling point, with the shrill, skyscraping hooks that definitely betray his background in tech-metal, but it’s hard to get into a lot of the actual music when it feels like a solid but ultimately blank approximation of Britrock with a bit more technicality for good measure. It’s certainly not bad and given the right attention Nagle could do more with this project than anyone would give him credit for at first glance, but the work will need to go into it, because it could be a bit better than this.

Yours Truly – Afterglow

Given that they’re both Australian pop-rock bands leaning towards the brighter end of the genre spectrum, it would be incredibly tempting to compare Yours Truly to Stand Atlantic; vocalist Mikaila even sounds uncannily like Bonnie Fraser at points. And sure, that could easily be spun as being to Yours Truly’s detriment – being a relatively new band with that many pertinent comparisons that can be drawn is hardly ideal – but there’s an air of professionalism and refinement to a track like Circles that does give it some likability, even if that’s only marginal. There’s enough of a bright, exuberant fizz to really hit a stride early, and Mikaila is certainly a strong vocalist against some instrumentation with a bit more meat behind it. But that’s also true of Stand Atlantic, and it feels as though everywhere that Yours Truly go on this track, those comparisons can just as easily manifest themselves. It leads to a situation where there’s plenty of potential here, but the vast majority of credentials will only come when Yours Truly find a sound of their own, rather than being as distinctly indistinct as they are now.

Follower – Voices

It feels like, from the very start, the odds are stacked against Follower. As a rather straight-laced alt-rock band existing in a time when the best course of action for that genre is to be anything but, it places more of an onus to be truly exceptional – in either playing, writing or both – to really stand out. And while Voices is far from bad when viewed in a vacuum, it doesn’t paint a particularly convincing picture of a band fulfilling the huge ambitions they clearly have. Sure, the pounding alt-rock melodies are solid, as it Luke Archers’ vocal performance, but it’s also of a distinct Britrock stripe that’s pretty much lost all of its flavour at this point, even if a resolutely strong hook does make up for lyrics that could do with some more identifiable detail. Overall, it’s fine for what it is, especially for an early single that’s presumably designed as a way to simply get on the ladder, but it’ll take more than this to do bigger things, and Follower need to realise that as soon as possible.

Low Hum – Strange Love

It’s hard to find the words to say about a project like Low Hum, not because it’s a work of total music genius that defies description and analysis, but because it feels like this brand of psych-pop / indie-pop has been done in so many permutations that it’s really beginning to lose its luster. It’s not something that Collin Desha necessarily goes out of his way to address either; a sturdy guitar rollick feels like the main pillar of strength, but his elongated vocals and the beds of watery synths that beef up the track simply float by and trail away all the way through. Sure, there’s a decent level of lucidity that can pair with a stronger rock core fairly well, but Strange Love feels, above all, like yet another indie act co-opting the lo-fi aesthetic because it’s popular, and not because there’s anything really new or exciting that can be done with it. It’s hardly terrible and as far as construction goes, at least this track actually has a sense of momentum, but it’s not something that’ll be remembered for long, if at all.

LAGS – Knives And Wounds

When a relatively unknown post-hardcore band ends up attracting comparisons to the likes of Fugazi and Boysetsfire, that’s usually a pretty good sign going forward, especially in a genre for which the art of true intensity and discord seems to be waning. And following those comparisons, Italy’s LAGS seem to be doing a solid job of building on them with Knives And Wounds, painting with the broad brush strokes of erratic post-punk and noise-rock as Antonio Canestri stands as a commanding, bellowing presence against the nervy backdrop. That noise and intensity is definitely the band’s strongest suit at this stage; the music can lack a bit of direction at times and, for as good as Canestri is as a frontman, his contributions can feel a bit thin, but at the very least, the discomfort they create is palpable, and serves as the main reason to keep an eye on this band intently. There could be something great to come from this, with just a bit of work.

Words by Luke Nuttall

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